Friday, December 10, 2010

My Favorites Friday: Beeswax

Happy Friday everyone!  Today we're going to just get right into it.  Beeswax!  It is truly one of my favorite things.  I really like everything about's warm, it's messy, it makes my studio smell fantastic and it's flexible!!  What do I mean by flexible?  Ah, that is just the beauty of beeswax.  We'll get to that in a minute.

Let's start with the wax itself.  Believe it or not, beeswax comes in two varieties...the natural kind and synthetic.  Synthetic beeswax isn't really beeswax even though you will find it listed that way.  It is a human made substance.  Probably the coolest thing about it, is that it comes in colors.  However, there are drawbacks to synthetic waxes. First of all, they are not as pliable as natural beeswax.  Secondly, there has been an ongoing debate as to how safe they are to use.  When the word "toxic" gets thrown around, I tend to steer clear.  Personally, I prefer natural beeswax and I stay away from synthetics.

You can find natural beeswax in a variety of in a jar and the wax is in small little chips.  That's cute and all...and part of what you'll be paying for is the nice packaging...which you can always save and alter later!  I just run over to my local art supply or craft store (of course, you can buy online!) and I buy a gigantic hunk of it that comes in a plastic baggie.

Don't drive yourself nuts by trying to cut a small piece of beeswax!  You'll only strain your muscles and get frustrated.  The easiest thing to do is keep that block of wax in it's bag and chuck it in the freezer for about a half hour to an hour.  Here comes the fun part.....when you take it out, whack that puppy with a hammer and the wax will break apart easily.  Then you'll have smaller chunks.

Melting wax....there are several little melting pots out there.  They work wonderfully and are really great to have if you use them for other things besides wax.  Usually the trays that come with those are removable and you would, again, stick the tray in the freezer and the old wax will pop out once it's frozen.  The drawback of using those with beeswax is that they don't hold much wax.  I tend to work on large canvases when I'm using wax and I don't want to constantly have to add wax that I then have to wait to melt.  I use a small crock pot that I leave the wax in at all times.  It has a lid so my wax doesn't get dusty.  When I want to work with it, I simply take it out, plug it in and turn it on.  Then I gather the rest of my supplies while the wax melts.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Once you use a household item (like a crock pot or a toaster oven) for craft or art materials (like clay or wax) you NEVER EVER want to use that appliance again for food!  

Getting back to what makes beeswax so my collages, the beeswax acts as the adhesive.  This means that if I have placed an element somewhere and I change my mind about it's placement, I can simply reheat that area and lift the element out.

There are a few tools you'll need besides a vehicle to melt your wax.:

  • some kind of brush that you will dedicate to wax only.  I use that same brush each time I work with wax.  Once you put it in the hot wax, the bristles will loosen right up.  If you go the crock pot route for your wax, I suggest a long handled brush.
  • a heat tool!  wax sets quickly, so you'll want to have that tool handy.  it's also helpful for heating areas that you want to remove an element from, creating drips with crayons or blowing those crayon drips to make neat textural elements
  • a mini iron.  you'll need this to smooth areas out.  "But I don't wanna!", you may say....that's totally cool to leave a rustic, rough surface.  However, if you are going to put any photo images you'll want a smooth surface underneath it.
This is the basics of wax.  I really like using it so much better than glues sometimes, just because I have the ability to change things up if I don't like something.  There are several techniques for working with wax AND it will really hold just about anything.

Below are a couple of beeswax collages.  I hope you enjoy them.  Let me know if you give beeswax a try.  I would love to hear about it and see what you've made!

This collage incorporates dress pattern, a photo (which is printed
on copy paper), buttons and ribbon.  It also has crayon drips 
and smudges.

This collage incorporates an image transfer right onto
the wax.  It is super simple!

Artfully yours....

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